Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Friday, May 14, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #71

The House Of The Rising Sun

The Animals

The roots of this song are shrouded in mystery. It is an old American folk song, first collected by folklorist Alan Lomax in Kentucky in 1937, although Animals keyboardist Alan Price claimed it was based on an old English song from the 16th century that somehow made its way across the Atlantic with settlers from England. In that version the infamous House was set in London's Soho. The true origin we shall never know.

What we do know is that when the Animals were touring with Chuck Berry around the UK in 1964, lead singer Eric Burdon heard the tune being sung in a folk club by a man named Johnny Handle. He liked it so much that he suggested the group do a version of it for their live act to differentiate themselves from other bands. Bob Dylan had done a version too, and The Animals were quick to point out that their inspiration had not come from his arrangement. However, this did not stop Animals fans from accusing Dylan of plagiarism, and he soon afterwards stopped performing the song live. He did, however, say that when he first heard the band's version on his car radio he liked it so much, he "jumped out of his car seat."

The song was recorded in one take in May 1964 and released to critical acclaim. Rock writer Dave Marsh described The Animals' take on "The House of the Rising Sun" as "the first folk-rock hit," sounding "as if they'd connected the ancient tune to a live wire," while writer Ralph McLean of the BBC agreed that "it was arguably the first folk rock tune," calling it "a revolutionary single" after which "the face of modern music was changed forever." Writer Lester Bangs labeled it "a brilliant rearrangement" and "a new standard rendition of an old standard composition."

As recorded, "House of the Rising Sun" ran four and a half minutes, regarded as far too long for a pop single at the time. Producer Mickie Most, who otherwise minimized his role on this occasion — "Everything was in the right place ... It only took 15 minutes to make so I can't take much credit for the production" — nonetheless was now a believer and declared it as a single at its full length, saying "We're in a microgroove world now, we will release it." And a good thing too.

It ranked number 122 on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The RIAA placed it as number 240 on their Songs of the Century list. In 1999 it received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. A 2005 Five poll ranked it as Britons' fourth favourite number one song of all time.

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